First Mennonite Church
September 27, 2015
A Famine In The Soul
Jeremiah 14: 1-12
Last Wednesday at our prayer meeting, we were asked to pray for rain, again. This time, however, there was an added part to this request: to pray that we do not get too much rainfall at once so as to cause damage or put life in danger. This addition to our prayer for rain is not without reason. After this prolonged drought and the fires we have had and are still having, the terrain is not at its best to cope with a heavy down pour at once. Landslide and flash flooding are prone to happen with the present condition of California landscape if it were to rain too much at a time.
Jeremiah’s description of Judah’s people, landscape, and fauna depicts a god-forsaken land. And indeed the severe drought Jeremiah described was terrifying. Farmers went to their wells to draw water and came back ashamed with their empty buckets. They could not plant their seed, which meant there was no hope of a harvest. The landscape was all brown and the ground was sunbaked and cracked. The wild animals were abandoning their young because the mothers could not suckle them. All the animals were gasping for air and going blind lacking basic nutrition. Man, animals and vegetation wither and pant for water, but there was no water.
Jeremiah acknowledged that Judah’s great drought had come as a result of their sins. “Our iniquities testify against us and our apostasies are many and we have sinned against you,” confessed Jeremiah. Jeremiah reflected a fundamental aspect of the Hebrew/Jewish theological understanding: God was the creator of everything and thus everything that happened witnessed to the hand of God being at work. No sphere of life was outside of God’s concern. Everything that happened could be explained in light of the covenant Yahweh had established with his people.
Here in the Western world we tend to make distinctions between those aspects of life or events in history that we think enter into God’s concerns and those we think do not. Sometimes even Christians fell prey to this worldview. Sometimes Christians believe that Sunday is more important than Monday, or that managing money is private, once we give the church/God a donation. Sometimes, without much thought, we believe that the spiritual is more important than the mundane or the physical world. Or, that it is good to pray and sing hymns while at church, but in private we can feed our mind with anything that entertains us. Or in contrast to Jeremiah’s view, that although the world was created by God, everything that happens in it is the work of nature or cyclical patterns.
Jeremiah believed that the God who created the world continued to be involved in it. Jeremiah believed that the God who entered in covenant with his people, was still committed to them and expected them to be committed to him as well. Jeremiah understood that event in the life of Judah or Israel must have an explanation in Yahweh their God. Thus, he concluded that the severe drought was not just a natural or atmospheric phenomenon but the direct result of Judah’s turning its back to God. But not everyone saw it the way Jeremiah weighed the situation.
Verses 7-9 reveal how casual the people were about their wrongful ways. These verses also reveal not only how far they had come to take God’s laws and covenant for granted, but also how easily they had devised false hopes for themselves. And instead of acknowledging their wrongful ways and confessing their sins to God they wanted to cast shame on God for their miserable condition.
Although our sins testify against us,
do something, Lord, for the sake of your name.
For we have often rebelled;
we have sinned against you.
You who are the hope of Israel,
its Savior in times of distress,
why are you like a stranger in the land…?
Why are you like a man taken by surprise,
like a warrior powerless to save?
You are among us, Lord,
and we bear your name;
do not forsake us!
Judah wanted to put pressure on God to do something about the devastating drought. “Shame on you;” they protested God, “Although being like a strong warrior you let yourself be beaten down and we get the beating too. The nations are watching us and anything bad that happens to us, reflects badly on you,” they cried. But God said to Jeremiah, “Do not pray for this people. Although they fast, cry out, and offer sacrifices, I will not hear them. I will consume them with pestilence, the sword and famine.”
God turned his back to his people. God would not allow himself to be held hostage by his people’s erroneous and selfish interests. God became like a stranger to his people. He did not recognize the people he had taken for himself. But most tragically, God brought judgment upon his people and the extreme drought was only the beginning. Exile awaited them.
Every so often we hear that America has turned its back to God and that America needs to repent. It is not uncommon to hear from church leaders or church goers that the troubles facing America have come as the consequences of abandoning God. Whether that is a true assessment of American history or not, what is imperative for you and me as Christians is to see that we never turn our backs to God. Yet, I am afraid that many in the Christian church are in danger of doing just that. From this passage we can take the serious warning. Just as the Lord accused Judah of being a people who “greatly love to wander,” we should be warned that not every path is God’s path, not every way of life is God’s desire for our life, and we cannot please ourselves and believe God is pleased with us. If we turn our backs to God, then just as God did to Judah God can do to the Christian church of today. God will turn his back on us. He will become like a stranger to us.
Sometimes we have the same attitude as the people of Judah had about their sin, their misery and about God. In times of trouble we sometimes act or pray like Judah. “Lord, I am your child. Why do you allow me to suffer this way?” we pray. And sometimes it is us who bring trouble upon ourselves. When we pray for church growth and outreach and nothing happens we wonder why. When something bad happens or when we do not get what we want, we wonder, why? Why did I not get this or that when I am a child of God? We want God to act in our favor but we sometimes forget the commitment we have with God.
Judah was going through a severe drought, literally. Yet, that literal drought in the land was a reflection of a drought in the soul of Judah. So today, I would like for us to take a look at a drought that is more than just a climatological phenomenon. I want to take a moment and talk about the drought in the soul. The condition in which we feel like living in a desert, a wasteland, where life, spiritual vibrancy, and meaningful communion with God seem to have disappeared. A drought in the soul would be that sense or feeling in which everything we do seems missing meaning, purpose and especially joy. A drought in which the entire landscape of our soul lacks freshness, newness, and meaning. Where prayer becomes a burdensome duty, a repetition of thoughtless words, or a useful crutch when we cannot walk on our own. A drought in the soul makes fellowship and communal worship another item or activity in our to-do list within our busy schedule. A drought in the soul can make us see God only as an emergency responder ready to act on-call.
I would like for us to search in our heart and look at the pattern of our relationship with God. How often do you invoke his name in prayer and in praise? Or, how casual do you take his invitation to seek his face? How much do you rejoice before your Maker that you are moved to a fuller surrender? When was the last time you felt touched by God while in prayer or worship? The contrast to a spiritual drought is the image Jesus spoke about of those who have the Holy Spirit in them. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive (John 7:38b-39).
Each of us know the condition of our soul before God. God knows that too. But if you feel a drought is encroaching upon your soul, here is the promise of Jesus. To you who believes in his name, to you who have been made a temple of the Holy Spirit, receive the living water of God. Let the rivers of life flow freely in your soul. Let the freshness of God’s Spirit fill your heart and mind. Let the water of God’s word wash away all unbelief and sin.
Here is the promise of the Lord to each of us: Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” Amen!